Recently, there was an optimistic opinion piece in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Tures, 4-28-18) regarding the Newnan response to the Neo-Nazis. Newnan clearly showed the Michigan-based Neo-Nazis that they were not welcome.
Tures references an NBC poll to illustrate how far we in the South have come. I deeply wanted to believe what the author concluded – that the progressive new South was leaving racism and bigotry behind. Then I started to objectively review the points made. I found that I disagreed with his basic assertion.
True, only 9 percent of all Americans support the neo-Nazis (ABC/WP poll, 8-17), but that does not mean that Southern (or national) bigotry has disappeared or is rapidly fading away.
Before moving here, I was a two-term County Commissioner in a rural Georgia county near Atlanta. Here’s what I found:
• Elected officials who in private used the “N” word when discussing black elected officials;
• County supervisors using the “N” word when reprimanding subordinates;
• Voters more concerned with defending the Confederate flag than understanding why it is offensive to black citizens;
• White constituents who expressed biased opinions of African-Americans; and
• A black city councilwoman who told me I was unwelcome attending her church (because I was white, per the head of the local NAACP, a friend);
Granted, these individuals are not representative of all Georgians, or the many good people in that County. However, racism here is far from gone. Based on my experience as an elected official, my view is that old time racism is still there; it simply has matured and evolved.
I believe intensive focus groups, rather than simplistic surveys, would be a far more effective means of discerning deeply-held Southern attitudes which are there lurking under the surface. And, there are other polls which are not nearly as positive about the decline of bigotry in the South.
A Winthrop University poll found that nearly half (46 percent) of white Southerners believe that “white people are under attack” (the Hill, 11-12-17). Almost a third (30 percent) thought that “America needs to preserve its white European heritage.” When asked about Confederate monuments in that poll (more below), 40 percent said to leave them as they are.
When asking about the Confederate flag, a 6-26-15 CNN/ORC poll found: “While 75 percent of Southern whites describe the flag as a symbol of pride and 18 percent call it a symbol of racism, those figures are almost exactly reversed among Southern African-Americans, with just 11 percent seeing it as a sign of pride and 75 percent viewing it as a symbol of racism.”
Is racial insensitivity synonymous with bigotry? A good case can be made that it is.
Support for Trump isn’t confined to the South, a Trump stronghold. However, studies have shown that racism was a driving force in his election, helping to elect him.
For example, American National Election Studies surveys of 2016 voters proved this uncomfortable truth by posing “racial resentment” questions (the Nation, 5-8-17). These findings do not mean that all Southern Trump voters were bigots. However, if you were a bigot, you very likely voted for Trump, who won every Southern state due to the white vote.
Even the NBC poll (4-12-18) referenced by Tures had troubling aspects. When asked, “Do you think race relations in Georgia are getting better, getting worse, or staying about the same?”, only 17 percent of Georgians responded that they were getting better. Over twice that number said they were getting worse.
In Georgia, 58 percent of respondents oppose removal of Confederate Monuments, with 43 percent strongly opposed. As I stated in a Newnan Times-Herald column published last year, the Augusta Monument reads, “No nation rose so white and fair, None fell so pure of crime.” If you were black, would you be offended that the majority of Georgians want it left as it is? I would.
If we are really moving in the right direction, why aren’t more white citizens asking that these monuments be placed in museums rather than on the courthouse steps where black citizens must walk by them and their misleading “Gone with the Wind” engravings? Why aren’t we erecting monuments to the slaves who were beaten, tortured, and murdered? Why did the outgoing President of UGA gratuitously veto this sort of monument earlier this month?